Once lauded as safe haven for African refugees, Israel plans to put roughly 200 South Sudanese on Sunday’s flight to Juba, the infant nation’s capital city, according to Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper.
AFP reported that more deportation flights are scheduled in the upcoming weeks and that those flights would mostly carry those who had volunteered to be repatriated.
The decision to expel Israel’s South Sudanese migrants first surfaced in early April, when the Interior Ministry issued a deportation order based on the idea that South Sudan’s independence in July 2011 had eased risks for the refugees. However, human rights groups in Israel petitioned the order, citing the enduring armed conflict between Khartoum and South Sudan as evidence that the refugees would be at risk of death if deported. But the Jerusalem district court ruled that the rights groups were not successful in proving that the refugees would face imminent danger.
Israel backed South Sudanese nationalists throughout their struggle with Khartoum between 1983-2005 and was one of the first nations to recognize South Sudan as a sovereign state.
A South Sudanese delegation arrived in Israel Thursday to facilitate the repatriation. In an attempt to encourage African migrants to volunteer for leave, the Israeli government is offering $1,250 to families that decide to leave willingly, according to al-Jazeera.
There are currently 45,000 total asylum seekers in Israel, 90 percent of whom have arrived in the country over the past five years, a report by the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), an Israel-based nonprofit group, found. Other reports place the figure as high as 60,000 Africans — mostly from Eritrea and Sudan — who currently live in Israel illegally. The South Sudanese population, however, is a fraction of the total migrant population, estimated between 750 to 1,500 individuals.
With the Israeli court decision paving the way for deportation, many of Israel’s African asylum seekers not hailing from South Sudan are terrified they will get caught up in the foray, said Yohannes Bayu, the executive director of ARDC.
“All of the refugees are living in fear now,” Bayu said. “When you don’t have a clear policy, anything can happen,’’
Bayu said the decision to deport Israel’s South Sudanese population mirrors the political rhetoric reverberating in the halls of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and that the government “wants to make a show for the public that they are doing something.”